Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Yellowstone National Park

I was preparing to cycle back into the Grand Teton National Park from Jackson, when I was told about an alternative route that had a cycle path running along a fair part of it and was even closer to the foot of the mountains. This sounded to good to miss, so after two days of R&R I headed off again.



The route passed Teton Village through to the village of Moose along the Moose Wilson road. I showed my Park Pass at the ranger station and carried on along the quiet narrow road through Silver Birch woods and Pine forest. Creeks flowing with clear icy mountain water ran under small road bridges with the snow capped Grand Tetons forming a majestic backdrop to this grandiose scenery.

It had been worth the extra effort to take the side trip down to Jackson even though I was now following some miles of the route I had already travelled. I managed to make it to Flagstaff Ranch that day, on the northern edge of the Grand Teton National Park (NP).

The camp site was a typical herringbone layout with pop up tents on pick up trucks, caravans and huge RV’s looking like Rolling Stones tour buses. Even my small pitch had a picnic table and a metal fire pit and more than enough room for another 3 tents like mine.

After setting up my tent and showering I wandered back to my pitch to find my neighbours had returned from their day out in the Park. They weren’t immediately friendly, maybe my lack of anything not running on a V8 engine was a bit disconcerting for them, but I strolled over and put out my hand of peace and introduced myself. I was soon offered a chair and a beer and introduced to a large group of friends and relations spread over at least three nearby camping pitches.



The group were from Colorado and real Huntin, Shootin, Fishin, types; one had a Phillipino wife who after getting over her shyness chatted away to me about how she missed the Philippines and hadn’t been home in many years, I felt sorry for her. The beers kept coming and they were all intrigued about my travels and we shared stories, mine of pedalling over passes and there’s of shooting wildlife!



They invited me for dinner but it had been a long day on the bike and I needed to sleep, so I said my good nights and crawled into my tent. My neighbours kept drinking beers and eating plates brimming with Enchiladas. Soon a scene from Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles started to unfold. (see this YouTube clip) below).
Two-Ocean Lake
The raucous gas letting from both ends by the, I assume, male contingent of the group was interspersed with protests from the Philippino lady, “Stop it boyz, eet smell bad”. The only response being even more farting and belching followed by school boyish titters of laughter and trying to pass the buck onto a breed of local Barking Spiders!



I only met one other cyclist on the site; an older man from Yorkshire whom I immediately guessed was a Brit by his trusty Dawes Galaxy bike parked outside the Gas Station. He said hello, stated that it was annoying that you could only buy beers in six’s as they were too heavy to cycle with, he passed one to me and cycled off! Strange… but thanks for the beer!

I woke early, keen to cross into Yellowstone NP before the RV crowd started their leviathans and before my neighbours started producing more gas at breakfast!

I was soon out of the camp site and pedalling along the quiet roads, my progress only impeded by numerous stops to take photos and gaze in awe at the scenery around me. I chatted for a few minutes with the lady ranger at the entrance to Yellowstone NP and headed on with the sun still low in the sky.

The benefits of travelling by bike through the parks is that you can stop easily, pretty much where ever you want to, whereby other vehicles are restricted to lay-bys and car parks. This proved useful, when on crossing a stone bridge over a gorge I could hear the roar of water below, looking over the parapet I could see a big waterfall, I had to explore!

An old track led off the road and old stone steps took you down through steep pine woods to the base of the falls, this was definitely not on the usual tourist maps. Being bear aware I followed a top tip as I made my way down, sing, if bears know your coming they usually run away, with my singing I was pretty sure this would be the case!

I spent some time sat relaxing by the falls before heading back up to the road singing at the top of my voice; I can’t remember the song, but the two ladies with a guide waiting in the woods at the top of the steps, at 7 in the morning, were more than happy to join in! I mumbled something about how nice the waterfall was and scurried off quickly red faced with embarrassment.

At various points on this ride I have crossed the Continental Divide where streams flowing west eventually feed into the Pacific and streams flowing east eventually feed into the Atlantic. At Two-Ocean Lake at the top off a pass in Yellowstone the Lake has two outlets and as the name suggests feeds into both Oceans. It would be one hell of a game of Poohsticks to try following your stick out of the lake to whatever ocean the flow had sent it towards!
The Atlantic \ Pacific connection always made it poignant to take a photo when I crossed a Continental Divide pass. On one of the passes in Yellowstone I arrived at the Continental Divide sign to find a group of New York Hells Angels had beat me to it. Now usually I’d ask a fellow cyclist to take my picture or use my tripod, but with a dozen bikers stood around I’d need to get the nerve to ask them or look slightly foolish!

I didn’t have to ask, a big guy on an Harley Davidson Electraglide spotted me about to gesticulate with my camera and walked over.

After taking my picture (I didn’t question his photographic abilities!) he started chatting “So wares you cycling from bro”, I explained my route as he stood shaking his head in disbelief in his world war 2 German style crash helmet. “Hey Duke…. Duke…., check out da Bro, he’s cycling from Yoiktown to Oregon”, a few whoops emanated from the other Harley riders, “Man we thought motorcycling from New Yoik to Yellowstone wuz pwitty tough goin, but use just one kwazy muffa!” (excuse bad New Yoik accent!!).

I thanked the guy for taking my photo and wished everyone safe journeys and pedalled off. A few minutes later the Harleys roared passed, horns honking and everyone waving; to be fare the camaraderie shown by bikers across the States towards cyclists has been great, with regular waves from Sunday Harley riders right through to the most nasty, ratty looking Kentucky chopper squads. UK motorcyclists take note, we’re all on two wheels, give us a wave!

By 10.30am the RV’s were starting to make their presence felt on the narrowish roads through Yellowstone and you have to keep one eye on your rear mirror to ensure they have spotted you. I was even told by a cyclist that one had passed them with it’s metal folding steps in the down position, somewhat reminiscent of a chariot scene from Gladiator with swords attached to the wheels.

I got off the road for a few hours to go and see Old Faithful, the parks Pièce de résistance. This geyser shoots a column of water around 150 feet into the air every 45 – 125 minutes, lasting around 5 minutes and ejecting anything up to 8000 gallons of steaming water, it’s a pretty impressive sight. The park also has many other thermal features sending steam and water skywards, as well as ponds of bubbling mud and strange coloured lakes.

The wildlife in the park is awesome, but the animal that impressed me the most was the Bison. The first one I saw was a baby and even that was huge, they are like something from another time, to see them in vast herds crossing the plains before their annihilation must have been an incredible sight.


You know when some wildlife is up ahead because there is a backlog of traffic, as RV’s and 4x4’s pull onto the verge to see what the people in the RV in front are looking at and in the process grinding Yellowstone to a halt, unless your on a bike. After a few close shaves with RV’s I decided to carry out a scientific experiment.


I stood at the edge of the road astride my bike pointing off into the distance, occasionally lifting up my camera and putting my hand to my mouth in an exhibition of faux awe! The first RV spotted me and pulled onto the verge, followed by numerous other large vehicles, there occupants eagerly scanning the horizon with their binoculars for the non existent wildlife. Once the road was suitable jammed and with a Doctor Evil like pinkie stuck in my mouth I pedalled on giving me a nice five minutes or so of clear roads!!



I eventually ended up at Madison Junction camp site, but as I cycled in the sign read “No Spaces Available”! RV’s were backed up checking for cancellations, I pedalled to the front of the queue and stealthily enquired at the site office as to the availability of spaces. “We’re full I’m afraid sir”, “But I’ve only got a bicycle and a small tent” I pleaded. “A Bicycle, oh we’ve plenty of Hiker \ Biker pitches”. Smiling, I was guided round to a nearby corner of the site where tarps had been strung between trees and fire pits and picnic tables spread around the forest.
Soon other cyclists started turning up, including Jenny, Joey, and Janelle who were biking from St. Louis, Missouri to Portland, Oregon. I was to meet up with these slightly eccentric former Art students in various locations over the following weeks and even get a guest appearance in one of their daily group photos! The Great Mega Adventure blog tells the J’s story.
The next morning I got up early again to cycle out of the park following the Madison river. Nothing stirred as I pedalled along a huge gorge with the river flowing in a weird eerie mist to my left.

But the next few hours proved to be a great finale to my journey in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, as I was treated to amazing views of wild Deer, Elk, Bison and Eagles in the most stunning of landscapes.



I cycled out of the park into the touristy town of West Yellowstone and was ready for some breakfast and ready to take on Montana, a new leg of the journey was about to begin.

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